Schacter Scours the Mind in Search of Memory—Finds Puzzle!

Daniel Schacter is Chair of Psychology at Harvard where he relentlessly examines machinations of the human mind, searching for clues and evidence of the vast, uncharted mystery that is memory. He is the author of numerous books on the subject including The Seven Sins of Memory and Memory Distortion: How Minds, Brains, and Societies Reconstruct the Past.


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conduit: Do you have a favorite historical misconception regarding remembering or forgetting?

daniel schacter: I think that misguided analogies that memory is akin to a camera or video recorder are highly misleading and unfortunate.

conduit: Is there a better analogy?

schacter: I’m not a great fan of analogies for memory or mind in general, because they often mislead rather than clarify. As far as memory goes, I like the “jigsaw puzzle” analogy—the idea that remembering is analogous to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. This analogy emphasizes the important idea that memory is not a simple copy of the past; instead, we re-assemble fragments of past experience, usually in conformity with our general knowledge and beliefs. The jigsaw puzzle analogy also emphasizes the reconstructive nature of memory.